In 1991 Chip Sorber sat in his Kent State apartment when his phone suddenly rang. He picked up, and it was his old high school friend and football coach at Chardon, Bob Francis, on the other end of the line.
“Would you be interested in coaching middle school football at Chardon?” Francis asked.
Sorber jumped at the unexpected chance. He received the job after an interview with Chardon football coach Bob Doyle.
Sorber coached the junior high team from 1991-1994. He moved to offensive and defensive coordinator at spurts from 2003-2009 and then the offensive coordinator in 2013-2014.
“I think there was always that hope I would fall into [coaching],” Sorber said. “I went into the Navy after high school instead of going right to college so all that kind of went on hold as I was in the service. When I got out of the service and began college, it became clear there was probably an opportunity to get into coaching.”
In 2015, another phone call created an opportunity for Sorber. The call came from the one school he would have left Chardon for at the time— Geneva, a school he already had 15 years of experience at as a teacher.
“I spent a couple years in between stints at Chardon where I had come back to Geneva and coached in the middle school for a few years, and I got to know some of the kids,” Sorber said. “I felt close to them, and I also knew some of the parents of the even younger kids were very interested in getting a program similar to Chardon’s going.”
Sorber will face his former school in a Division III, Region 9 third-round matchup at 7 p.m. Friday at Chardon.
In his first season at the helm, the Eagles finished 4-5 after starting 1-3. Geneva recorded a 2-8 record the next two seasons, and then 4-6 in 2018 before breaking through with an 8-2 record in 2019.
“It’s not just this group of kids. It’s the groups that have come before them that have laid the foundation for the last three years,” Sorber said. “We acknowledge that part of our program, the early days of it, and how important that was to now.
“It takes a long time to build a culture. It takes a long time to build minds and bodies that can win football games in highly competitive conferences. We’re really pleased our program seems to not have to rebuild anymore that it tends to just reload.”
Friday marks the third time Sorber’s Eagles matchup against Chardon. The Hilltoppers won the first game 41-16 in 2015. They followed it with a 49-7 win in 2016, as they went 11-1.
The game also features Sorber taking on Mitch Hewitt, his former player from his time coaching at Chardon.
“We definitely have an unusual relationship seeing as I coached him, I coached with Mitch and then I coached for Mitch,” Sorber said. “It’s the full spectrum here. He’s a great guy, and he’s surrounded himself with other great men and great coaches who dedicate everything to their program.”
With the exception of a few wrinkles, the Wing-T offense, the same offense Sorber helped install when he was at Chardon, is the go-to scheme for both teams.
“Just because we know what they’re running and they know what we’re running, it’ll make it interesting this week because both scout teams will run the same system,” Sorber said. “Normally, each week you’re trying to teach your scout teams to implement the other team’s offense. This week it’s been a little bit smoother because our guys already know how to do it, as do theirs.”
Sorber and Geneva hope the familiarity with Chardon’s offense and the Eagles’ recent playoff success carry over to Friday’s game.
“We’re gonna have to control the football on offense,” Sorber said. “Not give up big plays and not commit any turnovers or major penalties.”